Sophistafunk Back for Another Round
By Shout Omaha Staff
Syracuse, New York musicians Jack Brown, Adam Brown and Emanual Washington met in 2007 and quickly formed Sophistafunk out of a shared passion of music. Together, the band has won over crowds with a captivating stage presence and tight musicianship. Elements of old school funk and hip-hop goes into every track they create, fusing electronic dance grooves with soul and positively charged lyrics. They’ve collaborated live with everyone from Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Talking Heads) to Nikki Glaspie (Beyonce/Dumpstaphunk). The band was also featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives when Gold’s restaurant and music venue, Funk n’ Waffles, was featured on the show in December 2012. Vocalist Jack Brown was kind enough to do a last minute interview to help promote Sophistafunk’s upcoming show with local band Funk Trek this Saturday at Slowdown.
Shout Weekly: Let’s start at the beginning. When did this love affair with music begin?
Jack Brown: All three of share a common love of classic funk, soul, Motown, R&B, and hip-hop. We have our parents and siblings to thank for that. Adam’s background is more Stevie Wonder, Parliament Funkadelic, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock. Eman comes from a gospel upbringing, but also loves Dirty South and Neo-Soul (D’Angelo, Erykah Badu). My music upbringing is eclectic: I grew up on Bob Marley, rock ‘n roll, my Dad’s Beatles (‘61-‘65) my Mom’s Beatles (‘66-‘70), and also fell in love with hip-hop by age 6. I’ve always loved lyrics, used to sit with the CD book wide open and play songs on repeat until I knew every word. As I matured and found my voice, I started to gravitate towards activist music like Blackstar, KRS-One, Public Enemy, Gil Scott-Heron, and Rage Against the Machine. I would say the groups the three of us relate the most on are A Tribe Called Quest and The Roots, but I could probably name about 100 more.
How did Sophistafunk come to be?
Sophistafunk started as a series of house parties at Syracuse University known as Funk ‘n Waffles. Our keyboard player Adam Gold’s band would play and next to the keg would be all these crazy candy-filled waffles made of brownie batter, banana bread, etc. I was an SU student at the time, producing beats and performing with a crew of talented MCs who schooled me on underground hip-hop. When Adam graduated, he turned his party idea into a music venue / restaurant (which still exists, and has been featured on the TV show “Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives”). After a show with Method Man, my hip-hop group began teaming up with a live band. Our trumpet player used to be in Adam’s band and led us to Funk ‘n Waffles. A week before, well-known Syracuse drummer Emanuel Washington played at Funk ‘n Waffles and had an instant musical connection with Adam. One after the restaurant closed, we all went down there and jammed together for a few hours. Eventually, the two other members moved and the three of us began touring heavily. At first it was mostly confined to the Northeast, but soon we found a home on the festival circuit and started playing in Michigan and Colorado. After that it was on to California, Seattle and eventually England. We’ve toured the West Coast five times (about to be six) and the UK twice in the last three years.
You’ve gained quite a following since your inception. Why do you think people love your live shows so much?
Each of us bring something unique to the table. Adam sings, beatboxes, and plays four vintage keyboards at the same time. People go crazy for his Moog synth solos. On the drums, Eman has such pocket that makes him a one-man dance party. He’s the most natural drummer I’ve ever known. My lyrics and stage presence reflect a unique style, introspective yet accessible, confident yet vulnerable, sophisticated yet oh so funky. We pour our hearts out at every single show, no exceptions, and reciprocate the love in the room to bring people together. One thing traveling has taught us is that it doesn’t matter what city – or country – we play in. The music is universal.
How has your Syracuse background influenced your musical style?
We all met in Syracuse after growing up elsewhere, and it’s not a coincidence that our music took off here. For one, Syracuse University helped land us our first huge gig with Fergie & Sean Kingston at the Carrier Dome in 2008, and also helped produce our first EP in 2009. Secondly, there is a healthy live jam / reggae / festival scene in Upstate NY. This was the first music community that embraced us, which helped us stay far outside the typical pre-conceived boundaries of mainstream rap music. Syracuse is also a small city with a somewhat sparse music scene, so the bands that make it here have to work very hard, bring a unique quality product to the table, and get used to playing shows all out even when few people are there. Finally, our city is in close proximity to music Meccas like New York City, Boston, Burlington, Rochester, and Ithaca, to name a few.
I read you have a lot of classic hip-hop influences. I work for Chuck D and am all about the classic hip-hop. Who were/are some of your favorite artists?
KRS, Nas, Guru, OutKast, Biggie, Tupac, Eminem, Masta Ace, Public Enemy, Rakim, Tribe, Digable Planets, The Fugees, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Blackalicious, J5, recently been digging on Camp Lo, De La Soul, Souls of Mischief, and Arrested Development.
What do you like about playing Omaha?
We are musical brothers with the Kris Lager Band and have had the honor of performing at the last three Hullabaloo festivals. Our connection with these guys goes way beyond music, and has led to meeting a great group of people in Nebraska. One time our van broke down on the way to Hullabaloo, and we rented a pickup truck in Missouri and still made it to our show in time! That’s love right there. Shouts to Fort La Vista.
If you could tour with anyone on the planet, who would it be and why?
First thing that comes to mind is OutKast, followed by Nas & Damien Marley or Atmosphere. But I do believe touring with Phish would be an incredible experience, and that their fans would appreciate us even if we are outside the box. There are so many musicians, especially MCs, I could name here. In any of these scenarios, the goal would be to talk music and life with the people who inspire me. I had to chance to speak with KRS One before one of his shows, and later that night he shared the mic with me. That’s probably my favorite all-time music experience. Last year, I had a memorable conversation with Coolio after we played a show together in Syracuse. He was a huge personal influence when I was young and it was eye-opening to hear his thoughts on the deliberate watering down of content in mainstream music over the past few decades. My goal is to learn something from everyone I meet.
Your last album was Freedom Is, according to your website www.SOPHISTAFUNKband.com. What’s next on the agenda?
We will be releasing a single in early 2015. We recorded it with Joel “J-Dubby” Scanlon at Scanhope Studios in Colorado.
What does the music you make mean to you?
Music is an analogy for life. Blending genres that were once thought to be completely different is an analogy to shattering false paradigms of race, sex, class, etc. – which are exactly the themes I confront with my songwriting. Music is an extremely conducive way to discuss cultural observations, challenge societal norms, and connect with Human Beings from all walks of life. Each of us has a very personal story and set of experiences that have shaped who we are. Since we’re all unique individuals, our time on Earth is very much an inward journey. But we are NOT ALONE! We are not going through this in a vacuum, it’s happening to all of us simultaneously. Friends and family – biological or otherwise – are people who can support and inspire us, and vice versa. They can help us through the tough times. So even though it’s this super-personal inward journey, we are all in it together – whether we want to believe that or not. The process of “waking up” is ongoing, and there are plenty of pit stops and plateaus waiting for us if we’re not mindful. Art and music have aided in the expansion of consciousness for countless millennia. I consider myself just another voice in the long line of bards, b-boys, troubadours, thinkers, teachers, poets, philosophers, prophets, singers, sages, and shamans hoping to pass the torch to the next generation. My microphone is an extension of mind, body, and soul. My life is a work in progress. These songs are that journey.
Sophistafunk with Funk Trek, November 29, at Slowdown, 729 N. 14th St., 9 p.m. Tickets are $5. Visit www.theslowdown.com for more information.